Jul 11, 2022 - News

Maternal deaths likely to increase in Ohio post-Roe

Note: Select mortality data unavailable due to reliability and confidentiality restrictions; Data: CDC; Map: Jacque Schrag/Axios
Note: Select mortality data unavailable due to reliability and confidentiality restrictions; Data: CDC; Map: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Public health experts are concerned that strict abortion laws like Ohio's could lead to more mothers dying of pregnancy complications.

Why it matters: The U.S. maternal mortality rate is higher than any other developed country, an issue that has worsened during the pandemic.

  • Ohio's rate of 21.3 deaths per 100,000 births from 2018-20 was already slightly above the national average, per the latest CDC data.
  • Risk is higher everywhere for Black mothers, whose rates are nearly three times white mothers'.

Driving the news: Delivering a baby is 14 times more likely to result in death than an abortion, a 2012 study found.

  • But ripple effects could go beyond people who would've ended a pregnancy if permitted.
  • Due to fears and confusion about potential legal repercussions, pregnant people may avoid seeking medical help during complications, while providers worried about punishment may be more cautious about pregnancy-related care.

What they're saying: "By putting a fetus at the center of the discussion, it interrupts that capacity to have a singular focus on the health and well-being of a person who has come for health care," Alison Norris, an investigator with the Ohio Policy Evaluation Network, which studies reproductive health care policies, tells Axios.

The big picture: The six states with the highest maternal mortality rates all banned abortion quickly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade​​, Axios' Oriana Gonzales reports.

  • Anti-abortion forces disputed any connection between abortion bans and maternal mortality, calling CDC data "incomplete."

Zoom in: An Ohio Department of Health program monitoring maternal deaths found that 57% of the state's 186 pregnancy-related deaths from 2012-16 were preventable, per its most recent report in 2019.

  • New data is expected in the coming months, a spokesperson tells Axios.

Threat level: Ohio's maternal death rate could rise as much as 14% if abortion is completely banned, per a peer review-pending University of Colorado study.

  • Though Ohio technically hasn't completely banned abortion, it is no longer permitted after fetal cardiac activity is detected, or about six weeks — typically before many women know they're pregnant.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are poised to pursue a ban outlawing abortion from the moment of conception when they reconvene this fall.

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